Liam Kear­ley

As Bri­tish prog-rock up­starts Black Peaks pre­pare to un­leash their sec­ond full-length al­bum, Al­lThatDi­vides, ris­ing drum star Liam Kear­ley re­veals all about the as­cent of the UK’s most tal­ented new band

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: Chris Barnes pho­tos: Olly Cur­tis

The prog-rock pow­er­house tells Rhythm all about the as­cent of the UK’s most tal­ented band

Around 2016, Brighton prog-rock pow­er­house Black Peaks emerged, al­most from nowhere, with their stun­ning de­but, Stat­ues. The al­bum in­stantly made its mark with com­mand­ing cuts like the thun­der­ous ‘Saviour’ and the some­what schiz­o­phrenic ‘Glass Built Cas­tles’. Nat­u­ral per­former and drum­ming chameleon Liam Kear­ley quickly set his stall as one to watch be­hind the kit – all hefty grooves and an­gu­lar, ex­pres­sive fills. Con­tin­u­ous tour­ing and high-pro­file sup­port slots with he­roes in­clud­ing Deftones and Mastodon quickly fol­lowed. It al­most seemed too easy…

How­ever, be­hind the scenes the band were work­ing in­cred­i­bly hard to hone their iden­tity and build a fol­low­ing, some­thing they’d been do­ing since form­ing un­der a dif­fer­ent name in 2012. Away from Black Peaks, Liam still works full-time in a bar in Brighton and is un­der no il­lu­sion about the chal­lenge of achiev­ing – and re­tain­ing – suc­cess as a young Bri­tish rock band.

Black Peaks are now gear­ing up for the next phase of their jour­ney, re­leas­ing the muchan­tic­i­pated fol­low-up to Stat­ues and tak­ing their new mu­sic on the road. It’s an ex­cit­ing and daunt­ing time for the band. How­ever, whether they’re play­ing a sweaty club like Moles in Bath – the lo­ca­tion for to­day’s in­ter­view – or warm­ing up the crowd for their he­roes at Wem­b­ley Arena, it’s clear that Liam and his Black Peaks com­rades al­ways strive to per­form at the top of their game. It’s a phi­los­o­phy that has worked in their favour thus far.

Here, Liam re­veals to Rhythm what in­spires him to be the best drum­mer he can be, and gives his per­spec­tive on what it takes for a mod­ern band to make it in the dig­i­tal age...

On the sur­face it seems like Black Peaks have fol­lowed a pretty smooth up­wards tra­jec­tory, but there must have been some hard graft go­ing on in the back­ground?

“The back­ground work has been non-stop. We knew what we wanted to do. We were like, ‘Let’s go tour­ing and get our name out there.’ It gar­nered in­ter­est, we got a man­ager and it just blew up.”

Was the Black Peaks sound there from the start, or did it take some fine tun­ing?

“It prob­a­bly took a cou­ple of years. We were tak­ing in­flu­ence from The Mars Volta, Mastodon, Deftones, Tool, Dillinger Es­cape Plan. We all brought some­thing, all these crazy in­flu­ences, as well as other old school things like Sab­bath and Pink Floyd. That’s how our mu­sic started, not clos­ing any doors to gen­res, just let­ting any­thing hap­pen. The EP we re­leased un­der our old name [Shrine], was the first thing that felt like we were sound­ing like what Black Peaks is to­day. The first al­bum Stat­ues was like, ‘This is us, this is our sound.’”

And how would you de­scribe that sound?

“It’s hard to re­ally de­ter­mine what it is, but I think when peo­ple hear it they un­der­stand it a bit more. I al­ways ask peo­ple to let me know what they think, be­cause I have no idea. It’s an amal­ga­ma­tion of so many dif­fer­ent gen­res. There are so many dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences, but it’s not like we’re wear­ing them on our sleeve too much. We take lit­tle as­pects of each of those gen­res and some­how put it to­gether into this strange thing that is Black Peaks.”

What about your per­sonal drum­ming in­flu­ences?

“Chad Smith from the Chili Pep­pers was prob­a­bly my big­gest one from back in the day. That led to go­ing back to his in­flu­ences, like James Brown, funk, soul and Mo­town. For me that was more about the mu­sic of that era, less so the drum­mers. Then it moved onto Queens Of The Stone Age pretty quickly, so Dave Grohl. Then Jon Theodore and The Mars Volta. Then it would have been Abe Cun­ning­ham – he is a huge in­flu­ence. Then Brann Dailor from Mastodon, Danny Carey. All the big pro­gres­sive drum­mers. Even Gavin Har­ri­son and Por­cu­pine Tree.”

Do you think you have a sig­na­ture el­e­ment to your play­ing?

“Peo­ple have said I do have that, but what that is I don’t know. I think I’m a groovy drum­mer. I like play­ing grooves, and a friend of mine re­cently said I play taste­ful fills.”

Your fills and drum parts sound very con­sid­ered. Do they take time to craft?

“Stat­ues was an in­ter­est­ing one be­cause a lot of them we wrote pretty close to when we recorded. I just let my­self loose in the stu­dio, did some­thing and then learned it af­ter­wards. It was very much a nat­u­ral thing of let­ting my­self do it. On the new al­bum I was a lit­tle more held back and I learned the parts bet­ter. On Stat­ues, most of the parts were un­con­sid­ered, an­i­mal­is­tic and about let­ting my­self go a lit­tle bit. That’s what was best for those songs.

“I’ve been drum­ming so much lately that I re­ally want to play my parts, but be­fore this I was all over the place, jam­ming a bit too much. See­ing videos from back then I want to be bet­ter than that. With things like tem­pos I need to hold back more. I’m work­ing on that stuff.”

The band came out of Brighton, which has al­ways had a great heavy mu­sic scene. What is it about Brighton that pro­duces such great bands?

“I have no idea. There’s been so many great heavy bands from Brighton, Ar­chi­tects be­ing one of the top dogs of to­day. Ghost Of A Thou­sand too. It’s quite a pro­lific tour­ing stop. Bands would al­ways come through. You have the Con­corde, The Haunt, you used to have the En­gine Rooms – a tiny, grotty lit­tle venue. There are re­ally good venues where peo­ple care about mu­sic. That’s prob­a­bly why we have such a flour­ish­ing scene there. I think it’s one of the best in the UK.”

Was it al­ways the in­ten­tion for Black Peaks to ven­ture beyond the Brighton scene?

“Def­i­nitely. It started more as a de­sire to play in dif­fer­ent cities. We’d seen too many peo­ple play­ing in Brighton all the time. It’s good to do that at the start, but you’ve got to look out­side of that and be am­bi­tious and take a chance. We toured around in our singer’s girl­friend’s old Audi A4. I had to Rus­sian doll my drums so they fit­ted into them­selves! It was one of the best times of my life. Tour­ing around with those four, just hav­ing the best time; sleep­ing in a tent in Oc­to­ber in the Peak District. It was crazy man, but we got out to these peo­ple that got ex­cited about our mu­sic.”

A lot of young drum­mers read­ing this will as­pire to fol­low in your foot­steps. Hon­estly, how hard is it to make it as a band these days?

“It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble some­times. That’s why I think peo­ple al­ways ask the ques­tion of ‘how?’: ‘How did you do it, how do you get to this point, how did you get this show?’ We def­i­nitely saw our­selves play­ing in big­ger venues over time. But we just had to work hard to­wards that. That’s def­i­nitely part of it. Be­ing a great live band is one of the main things that peo­ple have said about us. It does help, be­cause peo­ple talk about it. We re­hearse a lot. Once or twice a week we’re re­hears­ing, work­ing on the songs and look­ing at what we can im­prove, and never tak­ing things too per­son­ally if any­thing is crit­i­cised.

“Right band and right time for the ra­dio was one of the big things for us, too.”

So there’s also an el­e­ment of luck?

“In a way, yeah. Our man­ager knew some­body in PR who sent it to [Ra­dio 1 Rock Show host] Dan P Carter, who played it to Zane Lowe. That was the start of this ra­dio thing. For a band of our style it was crazy!”

What other tips do you have?

“Stay true to your­selves. Don’t let other peo­ple try and con­trol you. If you find a man­ager that be­lieves in you and you trust them, let them ad­vise you.

“Tour­ing is a big thing too. Just get out there. Get out of your home­town and save up as much as you can. Get in the car and go tour­ing, book your own tours and has­sle peo­ple as much as pos­si­ble.”

Then there’s the so­cial me­dia, mar­ket­ing and mer­chan­dise side of things?

“Joe is very good with Pho­to­shop so he did a lot of the t-shirt de­signs. I take more of the so­cial me­dia side of things. You have to have a busi­ness head on you, es­pe­cially now. In the dig­i­tal age of play­ing mu­sic it’s so im­por­tant. We’re still learn­ing it. We were talk­ing about this last night. We’re in a tran­si­tional pe­riod. We’re not old school, but we’re not new school. We’re right in the mid­dle of this weird tran­si­tion. We’re not into film­ing our­selves and say­ing, ‘Hey guys, how’s it go­ing?’ We want peo­ple to get ex­cited about what we do as a band.”

Stat­ues was a break­out suc­cess for the band and put you on the map as a drum­mer to watch. Do you feel pres­sure to jus­tify the hype or do you feel you’ve earned it?

“I feel it’s a bit of both re­ally. I think ev­ery drum­mer that wants to do well should feel the pres­sure. I’m very hard on my­self; that’s why I’m very sur­prised when any of this kind of stuff hap­pens. The more we do this the more I re­alise that I want to do this for the rest of my life and that’s why I want to be­come the best I can be. If that means in­flu­enc­ing some­body, that’s my job done. If I can see a kid want­ing to play some­thing like me in the fu­ture then that’s re­ally ex­cit­ing. But it doesn’t fuel me. I just want to play drums ev­ery day. That’s my fire. I def­i­nitely want to im­prove on it. I don’t just want to be like, ‘Yes, some suc­cess, now I can sit back and do noth­ing.’ This is just the be­gin­ning for me.”

Which drum parts on Stat­ues are you most proud of?

“There’s a song called ‘Set In Stone’. That track has a re­ally cool 16th-note pat­tern where the hi-hat goes off beat. I just love play­ing it and I re­ally feel it’s a unique part. I don’t even know how it came out. There’s some­thing like a drum solo in there too. Joe wrote this solo in the stu­dio, which was to­tally amaz­ing. I asked if I could drum over it with him, so we did this duet.

“I play to Joe most of the time. It’s weird be­cause most drum­mers play to a bass player. My play­ing style is more mu­si­cal I think, rather than just be­ing a drum­mer. I hear melodies and think about melodies, but I can’t play them.”

The suc­cess of Stat­ues landed Black Peaks sup­ports with some amaz­ing bands, like Deftones at Wem­b­ley, then DillingerEs­cape Plan, Mastodon...

“Deftones was the first one and that was in­sane. Ar­chi­tects were sup­posed to do it and then the

“On Stat­ues, most of the parts were. un­con­sid­ered, an­i­mal­is­tic and about let­ting. my­self go a lit­tle bit. That’s what was. best for those songs”.

Bat­a­clan hap­pened and the show got moved and Ar­chi­tects couldn’t do it any­more. We’d just re­leased our al­bum and were tour­ing. About two weeks later we found out we were go­ing to be play­ing with Deftones. We were so ready for that show. We wanted to play big shows. I felt like I was play­ing some of the best drums I’d ever played. I lit­er­ally cried when I saw the email be­cause they’re like my favourite band in the world.”

What was that gig like? Sup­port slots at are­nas can be hit and miss?

“I think we played re­ally well. Some of the re­views were in­cred­i­ble. Peo­ple still tell us they’d never heard of us un­til that day. I wasn’t ner­vous at all. I met Abe and all the guys. That whole vibe of be­ing in that cool en­vi­ron­ment with these peo­ple, I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’

“Then we had a month where we wanted to play shows in Europe. We let our agent know and we started see­ing lit­tle fes­ti­vals come in. We got Ar­chi­tects sup­port for four days in France. That was a great start. Then it was four days with Dillinger Es­cape Plan; Za­greb with Prophets of Rage. Then Mastodon hap­pened. That was a dream come true for all of us. That was the one we had been col­lec­tively wait­ing for. The day we left for that whole tour we got an email say­ing we were play­ing with Sys­tem Of A Down in an arena at the end of the tour. Five huge bands. It was crazy, the best tour ever.”

The new Black Peaks al­bum, Al­lThatDi­vides will be re­leased in Oc­to­ber. What can you re­veal about the record and your ap­proach to the drums?

“I’m en­dorsed by Zild­jian so I wanted to try out some dif­fer­ent things with them. I got a load of dif­fer­ent cym­bals to try, but ended up stick­ing to what I know which is A crashes and K stuff! That’s my sound. For drums I bor­rowed a Bri­tish Drum Co kit and I used my old Gretsch too. I recorded with Evans Hy­draulics. I wanted to get that re­ally bright at­tack-y sound. They did pretty well.

“The snare I used was a Seren­ity Drums cus­tom. It was made for me by a guy called John Ham­mond. It’s a seg­mented stave snare made out of four types of wood. It has 180 dif­fer­ent pieces of wood. It’s bonkers. It’s even got one of my old skate­boards in the mid­dle ring and has hand­made lugs, made from 1912 to 1914 pen­nies.

“We went to Vada Stu­dios up to­wards Birm­ing­ham. It’s an amaz­ing stu­dio. The drum room is in an old chapel that must be about 500 years old. You get re­ally nice res­o­nance in that room. The live sound is just in­cred­i­ble. We used a lot of the nat­u­ral re­verbs in there.

“The guy who recorded it – Adrian Bushby – was real old school, us­ing the desk, more so than all the preamps. I was to­tally blown away that he got the live mixed sound from the drums straight into the desk. It was re­ally the most hon­est ver­sion of me that I’ve heard. Of course, there are things I would change next time from this ex­pe­ri­ence – like I think I would trust my in­stinct a bit more, but you know I’m still re­ally happy with it and I think it sounds ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.”

You have just re­leased a track called ‘Can’t Sleep’, which sounds like a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion from Stat­ues.

“That song is a tran­si­tional song, the best of both worlds. That was writ­ten three years ago. We recorded Stat­ues in 2014, then started writ­ing straight away. We recorded the new al­bum at the end of 2017. It’s heavy, but more melodic I think. It’s still got the gut­tural heav­i­ness. There are huge slow grooves on quite a lot of it, then faster Mars Volta, Queens Of The Stone Age kind of stuff. There’s one song in par­tic­u­lar that has a very Queens-y tom part.”

Did you still have the chance to record some tasty drum parts?

“I wanted to let the mu­sic through a bit more. That was my plan. I do think I should have let my­self loose more than I did. I think I was too hard on my­self try­ing to make it per­fect this time.”

“The more we do this the more I re­alise that I. want to do this for the rest of my life and that’s. why I want to be­come the best I can be”.

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